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Chinese Party Head Visits Gorbachev and Rivals

Talks to focus on closer economic, military, political ties, not ideology

CHINA'S Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin plans to meet Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow this week to do business with the man labeled a traitor to communism in internal Chinese documents just a year ago. The historic summit illustrates how Chinese and Soviet leaders are shunting aside conflicts over Marxist doctrine to clear the way for closer economic, military, and political ties. For the first time in decades, national interests, not ideology, are governing the relationship, diplomats say.

``We don't criticize their party, and they don't criticize ours,'' says Yuri Lyssenko, spokesman of the Soviet Embassy in Beijing, summing up the new tone of Sino-Soviet exchanges.

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Mr. Jiang, the first Chinese party leader to go to the Soviet Union since Mao Zedong visited in 1957, is scheduled to meet Mr. Gorbachev, Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, and possibly Russian Republic leader Boris Yeltsin during a May 15-19 trip to Moscow and Leningrad. The leaders will address relations between the two communist parties and exchange views on domestic and international issues, Mr. Lyssenko says.

Moscow is interested in sizing up Jiang, promoted by Chinese ruler Deng Xiaoping as the core of Beijing's next generation of leaders, Western and East European analysts say.

For its part, Beijing will gauge the strength of Gorbachev and his rivals, such as Mr. Yeltsin. Beijing is worried about Soviet political disintegration and ethnic unrest across its borders, the analysts say.

The Chinese ``are very much supporting [Gorbachev] now as the best hope of holding the country together,'' a Beijing-based Western diplomat says.

Until recently, Beijing had paid little attention to Mr. Yeltsin, although Chinese officials privately criticized him as a ``splittist'' with dangerous ideas. This attitude has shifted, however, as Yeltsin's power has increased with concessions by Gorbachev, especially last week's agreement to relinquish control over Siberian coal fields to the Russian Republic. Siberia shares an important border with China.

``For the Chinese it is now very important to meet Yeltsin, to figure out whether he is a serious figure in the Soviet leadership,'' says an Eastern European journalist in Beijing.

On a related issue, China may worry that Yeltsin would favor closer ties between the Soviet Union and Taiwan. That question emerged as a key irritant in Sino-Soviet relations last December when the mayor of Moscow, a political associate of Yeltsin, infuriated China by making an unofficial visit to Taipei. Beijing has considered Taiwan a rebel province since 1949 and does not recognize its government.

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The Soviet Union, which along with other Eastern European countries is eager to explore trade and business opportunities in Taiwan, seeks guidelines from Beijing on what level of contacts, short of official recognition, is acceptable.

``The Soviets want an agreement on who can go, but the Chinese don't want anyone to go,'' a Western diplomat says.

As leaders of the world's two largest communist parties, Jiang and Gorbachev will seek to agree on some broad principles that will help prevent ideological disputes from disrupting relations as they did during the late 1950s and '60s, analysts say.

``Both countries want to develop socialism. There are only differences in our methods, not in the general direction,'' says Soviet spokesman Lyssenko.

China and the Soviet Union ended three decades of open hostility and normalized relations when Gorbachev met with Chinese leaders in Beijing in May 1989.

Yet problems soon arose. Beijing and Moscow took sharply different stances on mass movements for democracy in China and Eastern Europe. Chinese hard-liners, who called in troops and tanks to crush student-led protests on June 4, 1989, attacked what they saw as Gorbachev's backing for democratic movements in Eastern Europe, internal Chinese documents show.

Nevertheless, practical steps to improve ties have continued.

The nations have cut military forces along their 4,600-mile border, made progress toward resolving territorial disputes, and initiated military cooperation.

A visit by Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov last week ended with an agreement that China and the Soviet Union no longer threaten one another, according to a Soviet embassy statement. Officer training exchanges are under consideration, diplomats say.

In a sign of the importance placed on the nascent military relationship, Jiang is visiting Moscow not just as party chief but also in his capacity as head of China's central military commission. He will be accompanied by Chinese Defense Minister Qin Jiwei.

Trade is expected to exceed the 1990 figure of US$3 billion this year, with border trade growing quickly. Beginning this year, the countries partially abandoned their restrictive practice of barter trade for more flexible, cash transactions.

Economic cooperation between Beijing and Moscow is unrestrained by human rights concerns, unlike that with Western nations and Japan.

``This is very convenient for us,'' a Soviet source in Beijing says.

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